Virginia now has 290.89 megawatts (MWs) of solar installed, which represents approximately .037% of its total electricity generated. This is an increase from last year’s total of 192.4 MW, and represents the state moving more than half of the way towards Dominion’s goal of building facilities to generate 400 MW of solar energy by 2020. Despite the increase in MW, Virginia’s national ranking for solar and renewable energy slipped from 17th in 2016 to 20th in 2017. This indicates that other states have embraced this highly competitive industry and are reaping its rewards, while Virginia has lagged behind. Our state also ranks 13th in growth projections for the next five years — an unnecessarily low ranking, given Virginia’s climate and access to both ocean and mountain wind.
Re-published with permission from Virginia Solar United Neighborhoods (VA SUN)
The recent growth of solar electricity generation has been nothing short of spectacular. Nationally, solar photovoltaic (PV) installation costs have fallen by more than 70% in the past decade. The total capacity of installed solar has tripled since 2010. The solar industry now employs more people than the coal and gas extraction industries. Solar now accounts for the majority of new electricity generation capacity additions. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have propelled this solar momentum, installing solar arrays on their own homes and businesses.
Virginians are no different in seeing the value of producing local energy with solar. In the last three years alone, our small non-profit, VA SUN, has directly facilitated more than 400 installations. This has generated more than $8 million dollars in retail solar sales for local Virginia contractors.
This grassroots solar momentum combined with dramatic system cost declines has Virginia’s electric utilities worried.
Why is rooftop solar a threat to monopoly utilities?
Solar panels are a distributed power source. This means they create electricity at or near the source of use. This is counter to traditional electricity generation which occurs at large, centralized locations and is then transmitted long distances to the point of end use. The emergence of solar PV as a cost effective and easy to maintain ‘generator’ has enabled Virginians to become their own energy suppliers.
While solar means increased energy freedom, resilience and local job creation for Virginians, utilities see this only as lost revenue.
Electric utilities typically generate income two ways. They sell electricity to customers or they build electric grid infrastructure, such as power plants and transmission lines. As Virginians install more solar, they purchase less electricity from their utilities and reduce the need for costly investment in new power plants and transmission lines.
Increased solar adoption is good for all utility customers, as we are the ones who pay for rising energy costs and investments in new grid infrastructure. This introduces competition and cuts into utility profit margins. Virginia’s two largest utilities, Dominion and Appalachian Power are investor owned utilities, meaning they are managed as private, for profit entities. While they are governed as ‘regulated monopolies’ by the Virginia State Corporation Commission, their primary purpose is to generate revenue for shareholders.
Customer-owned, ‘rooftop’ solar reduces revenue to utility shareholders by reducing demand for their products (electricity and power infrastructure). This is particularly concerning to utilities since they have seen overall growth in electric demand remain flat and even decline since 2009. This flat demand is due to energy efficiency and decreased industrial activity. Solar is poised to lower electricity demand from utilities further. Utilities are trying to hold on to their profit margins by blocking solar’s growth.
VA SUN is a project of the Community Power Network (CPN).
350 Loudoun and several other organizations celebrated Earth Day early with a gathering focused on educating area citizens about climate change and sharing ways that each of us can make small changes to reduce our carbon footprint.
Powered by Facts attended the event atCorcoran Brewing in Purcellville hoping to spread the word that we all need to continue to let Virginia legislators know that renewable energy is a priority. Even though Commonwealth Senators and Delegates are not in session, they want to hear from their constituents about the things that are important to them.
SB 779, HB 1285 and HB 1286 were shelved for further discussion, so making your voice heard about solar and renewable energy during the legislative “off season” ismore important than ever.
A few things that resonated with the crowd at Sunday’s event:
- Virginia produces less solar energy than Georgia and North Carolina (and approximately 35 other states)!
- SB 779 could help Virginia farmers “harvest” the sun to create additional revenue streams.
- Passage of HB 444, which requires electric utilities in the Commonwealth to notify customers every quarter about how they can purchase renewable energy, was a small, but important step in the right direction.
Powered by Facts’ interns from C.S. Monroe Technology Center in Leesburg created a flyer with the names and contact information for Northern Virginia legislators:<image001.jpg>
We hope they – and you – will take a few minutes to reach out to your Delegate and Senator to show support for solar and other renewable energy options in the Commonwealth.
We will continue to be at events in the coming months – hopefully further afield – and will let you know where we will be!